West Flanders - Bruges, the coast and 'Flanders Fields'
8 days / 7 nights | Self-guided cycling tours
This is the first stanza of the famous poem written by John McCrae in 1915, in name of those who had died in the Great War on the West Front. However, the poem was a call to arms; and the worst was yet to come. Battlefields, museums, cemeteries and memorials can be visited on Days 06 and 07 of this tour. Should you want to pay your respects at a specific grave or cemetery, do your research beforehand! http://www.greatwar.co.uk/trip-info/visit-1ww-battlefields.htm Once you know where the cemetery is, if necessary, we can try to adapt the cycle route for you to reach it. Most WWI-related places of interest are situated within the Bruges – Panne - Ypres triangle. If you want to stay longer, just book an extra night.
The happy highlight of this holiday is the wonderful town of Bruges.
Level 1: This is an easy cycling trip on relatively flat terrain, suitable for people with little or no cycling experience. Daily cycling distances span roughly 30–50 km. A 3-gear bike should suffice.
Day 1: Arrival Veurne
Organize your own journey to Veurne. The beauty of the small Old Town will delight you. The main market square is one of the most beautiful in all of Belgium.
Day 2: Veurne - Ostend (Cycling 41 km / 25 miles)
On your first cycling day, make your way up the North Sea coast. Art lovers may be interested to visit a museum dedicated to painter Paul Delvaux (1897-1994). Farther along, the well-known beach resort of Koksijde boasts the highest dune top on the coast. It used to be a beacon for sailors at sea. Proceed to Nieuwpoort, best-known for the battle that took place here in 1600 AD between a Spanish army and a Dutch army including English and Scottish regiments. Back then, the lesson learnt was that open-field battle is best avoided in favour of besieging a town. In West Front visitors’ centre you can find out what happened here 1914-1918. Top off your day in beach resort Oostende (Ostend) and watch the sun set into the sea.
Day 3: Ostend - Bruges (Cycling 39 km / 24 miles)
We have planned a short trip for today to ensure you have ample time to explore Bruges. A good place to stop for a break is the village of Stalhille. Directly below the church tower you will find Antonie Demonie, master of many trades, glass-blower, basket weaver, beekeeper. While you sit and enjoy the view of the polder, savour a cup of honey tea or a glass of honey beer. Subsequently, wander through a peaceful nature reserve called the Meetkerkse Moeren: low-lying, open wetland where wild flowers grow in the meadows and where marilandica poplars are being reintroduced to provide shelter to bats and birds. Finally, crown your day in Bruges! This captivating town should be admired both by day and by night. Picture-perfect!
Day 4: Bruges - Roeselaere (Cycling 59 km / 37 miles)
Follow a delightful route through the woody Houtland region. It is dotted with lovely castles and country estates. Near Oostkamp you can admire Pecsteen, Raepenburgh and Lakebos castles. Stop off in Torhout, Gitsberg and Hooglede and finally set course for Roeselaere.
Day 5: Roeselaere - Kortrijk (Cycling 36 km / 22 miles)
In 1995 work got underway to transform farmland into Rhodesgoed woods. Poplar and willow were planted and paved the way for slow-growing oak, ash, cherry and beech. Today you will enjoy woods interspersed with wild-flower meadow. Already the area counts a great many different species of plants and animals, thanks in part to numerous ponds and meandering Rhodebeek brook. Take a break in the shoe town of Izegem where cyclists with a shoe fetish will want to wander the halls of Eperon d’Or museum. It showcases not only the finest “Chaussure d’Iseghem” shoes, but everything to do with shoe and brush production and the town’s industrial heritage. Next, ride through the slightly rolling, wide-open landscape of West Flanders to Kortrijk on the River Leie (Lys). Take your time to stroll around town to see the Belfry, Town Hall, beguinage and Gravenkapel, a chapel and mausoleum for the Counts of Flanders. The medieval Broel towers used to be part of the town’s fortifications and guarded the stone bridge across the river. If you have a fascination with colour, fingers crossed that St. Anthony’s church of the Passionist Fathers is open for you to see the greens, browns and golds in the painted interior.
Day 6: Kortrijk - Ieper (Cycling 43 km / 26 miles)
Follow the River Leie out of town and head for Menen (Menin). The town museum presents the military history of this border town. Forty-eight thousand German soldiers lie buried in Menen War Cemetery. Then proceed to Beselare/Zonnebeke to ‘Passchendaele 1917’ Memorial Museum dedicated to the madness of the Battle of Passchendaele. From here there is a 3-km walking route to Tyne Cot Cemetery, with nearly twelve thousand Commonwealth graves and a wall with the names of another 35,000 soldiers with no known grave. Polygon Wood was the scene of fighting in the First, Second and the Third Battles of Ypres. The pinewoods harbour two British war cemeteries as well as memorials for soldiers from Australia and New Zealand. Later on, you can visit Hill62, Sanctuary Wood Museum, one of the few places where trenches have been preserved. There is a free app you can download onto your mobile device, 'Ypres Salient 1914-1918' to help you explore the landscape around Ypres. You will end the day in Ypres. ‘In Flanders Fields’ Museum can be found in the immense and magnificent Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) on the main Market Square. You may be interested to attend a poignant ceremony that takes place every evening at 20.00 hrs under the Menin Gate memorial for the soldiers who lost their lives in the trenches and whose graves are unnamed: Buglers play the “Last Post”.
Day 7: Ieper - Veurne (Cycling 58 km / 36 miles)
The Allied wounded in the Ypres Salient were taken to Lijssenthoek, just outside the town of Poperinge. From 1915 this was the scene of four large British field hospitals with a total of 4000 beds. Ninety-seven percent of the wounded were patched up and moved on. But 11,000 soldiers of thirty different nationalities found a last resting place in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. Because most of them were alive upon arrival at the field hospital, their names were known and appear on the gravestones. Today, the excellent visitors’ center is a work in progress as more and more photographs and stories are linked to a specific gravestone. On to lighter matters. Cycle to Poperinge, a lovely town with a Gothic Town Hall and three gothic churches. Visit the Hop Museum where colourful characters introduce you to the Belgian beer and hop culture. Later on you will pass St.Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren. The monks are Cistercians of Strict Observance or Trappists. They pray and read and do manual work… in the brewery! This is one of six Belgian abbeys that brew Trappist beer. Then cycle the winding roads of West Flanders, past glistening streams, scattered villages and vast cropfields, to your destination Veurne.
Day 8: Departure from Veurne
After breakfast, your holiday will come to an end. It’s time to return home.
Please note: All cycling distances stated above are approximate only.